Isabel Pauley, the prosecutor in Long County, near Fort Stewart, said the militia group of active and former U.S. military members spent at least $87,000 buying guns and bomb components.
According to The Seattle Times, they allege the group was serious enough to kill two people — former soldier Michae Roark and his 17-year-old girlfriend, Tiffany York — by shooting them in the woods last December in order to keep its plans secret.
Prosecutors say Roark, 19, served with the four defendants in the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division and became involved with the militia.
Pauley said the group believed it had been betrayed by Roark, who left the Army two days before he was killed, and decided the ex-soldier and his girlfriend needed to be silenced.
“This domestic terrorist organization did not simply plan and talk,” Isabel Pauley told a Superior Court judge. “Prior to the murders in this case, the group took action. Evidence shows the group possessed the knowledge, means and motive to carry out their plans.”
The group allegedly called itself F.E.A.R., short for Forever Enduring Always Ready. Authorities don’t know how many members it had.
One of the Fort Stewart soldiers charged in the case, Pfc. Michael Burnett, 26, gave testimony that backed up many of the assertions made by prosecutors.
He pleaded guilty Monday to manslaughter, illegal gang activity and other charges. He made a deal to cooperate with prosecutors against the three other soldiers — Pvt. Isaac Aguigui, identified by prosecutors as the militia’s founder and leader, and Sgt. Anthony Peden and Pvt. Christopher Salmon.
All are charged by state authorities with malice murder, felony murder, criminal gang activity, aggravated assault and using a firearm while committing a felony, reports The Huff Post. A hearing for the three soldiers was scheduled Thursday.
Prosecutors say that Michael Roark, 19, served with the four defendants in the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division and became involved with the militia. The group believed it had been betrayed by Roark, who left the Army two days before he was killed, and decided the ex-soldier and his girlfriend needed to be silenced.
Burnett said that on the night of Dec. 4, he and the three other soldiers lured Roark and York to some woods a short distance from the Army post under the guise that they were going target shooting.
Burnett said that Peden shot Roark’s girlfriend in the head while she was trying to get out of her car. Salmon, he said, made Roark get on his knees and shot him twice in the head. Burnett said Aguigui ordered the killings.
“A ‘loose end’ is the way Isaac put it,” Burnett said.
Salmon’s wife, Heather Salmon, is also charged in the killings.
Pauley said Aguigui funded the militia using $500,000 in insurance and benefit payments from the death of his pregnant wife a year ago.
Aguigui married fellow soldier Dierdre Wetzker at Fort Stewart. Wetzker, 24, died last year at Fort Stewart while pregnant with the couple’s son. According to Orlin Wetzker, her uncle in Ogden, Utah, the family was told by law-enforcement officials that she may have been poisoned.
Aguigui was not charged in his wife’s death, but Pauley told the judge her death was “highly suspicious.”
The group used some of the nearly $500,000 in insurance and death benefits to buy more than $87,000 worth of military-grade firearms and land in Washington state.
In an interview with military investigators, Pauley said, Aguigui called himself “the nicest coldblooded murderer you will ever meet.” He used the Army to recruit militia members, who wore distinctive tattoos that resemble an anarchy symbol, she said.
“All members of the group were on active duty or were former members of the military,” Pauley said. “He targeted soldiers who were in trouble or disillusioned.”
According to the prosecutor, the militia group had big plans. It plotted to take over Fort Stewart by seizing its ammunition control point and talked of bombing the Forsyth Park fountain in nearby Savannah, she said. In Washington state, she added, the group plotted to bomb a dam and poison the state’s apple crop.
Ayn Dietrich, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Seattle, said the bureau was aware of the case but declined to comment further.
Fort Stewart spokesman Kevin Larson said the Army has dropped its own charges against the four soldiers in the slayings of Roark and York.
“Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield does not have a gang or militia problem,” Larson said in a statement, though he said Army investigators still have an open investigation in the case.
“However, we don’t believe there are any unknown subjects,” he said.